Hummingbirds charm us with their tiny size, quick, hovering movements and fearlessness around humans. You can entice them into your backyard wildlife habitat (and possibly onto an outstretched finger) by offering them plenty of nectar-producing flowers. Hummingbirds serve a greater purpose than mere entertainment — they’re important for cross-pollination of plants. In fact, more than 130 native plant species rely exclusively on them for cross-pollination.
Hummingbirds migrate and you’ll see the heaviest concentration while they move northward in spring to their breeding range and south in the fall to their winter range in Mexico and beyond. Some species do stay all year in California, Oregon and Washington, and an occasional few winter in southern Florida and southern Texas. But most of us must take our enjoyment during the few months they spend with us in summer. Check with your local Audubon Society to find out what hummingbirds you can expect to visit your locale and what months of the year.
Birds have color vision and hummingbirds seem drawn to bright colors, especially red (which is why most hummingbird feeders are at least partly red.) They don’t limit themselves, though, and will sip nectar even from white flowers. Be sure to plant flowers in masses of the same color — a single bright flower here and there doesn’t scream “come to me” to a bird passing overhead. You’ll find this is also more appealing to the human eye.
Hummingbirds like to have many different sources of nectar, so plant several varieties. Be sure to include species that flower at differing times, too, so something is always in bloom. If you include hybridized plants, be sure to select single-bloom species, as hummingbirds prefer them over double-bloom varieties. Some of the plants favored by hummingbirds are listed below. Slow-motion video of how hummingbirds “sip” nectar.
Top photo: Allens hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin. (Dawn Beattie / Flickr; cc by 2.0 )